Matheny continues philosophy from La Russa; players like Wacha follow Waino's lead
ST. LOUIS -- If this were an Eastern philosophy, the whole concept would be seen as a path to enlightenment. But on the banks of the Mississippi River, in a border state, it turns out to be a path to the World Series. That may not open up the secret to existence, but it's still really good.
It is "The Cardinal Way." It is not primarily an elaborate system of X's and O's, because this is not the National Football League. It is a way of looking at baseball, how the game should be played, must be played, how the men who play it should approach their roles in the game. It is a baseball way of life.
"The Cardinal Way" has been around for a considerable length of time, but it is as current as can be right now, because the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series, again.
The Cards are making their fourth World Series appearance in the last 10 seasons. If they defeat the Boston Red Sox in this Fall Classic, they will be the only team with three World Series championships this century. They are already the only National League team with a winning record in each of the last six seasons.
"The Cardinal Way" also appears to be the right way. So how do we define it?
Adam Wainwright, ace of the St. Louis pitching staff, takes the question and ponders what can be done with it.
"Gosh, we need to start selling books about this," Wainwright says with a small smile. "If you want to find out, buy the book.
"Cliffs Notes version is, this is a way of thinking that we have in St. Louis and in our clubhouse and throughout our organization -- an expectation of winning, an expectation of professionalism that comes with that winning, and doing things the right way.
"And that's been taught and bred over the years from guys like Red Schoendienst, like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith. All of these great Hall of Famers that you've grown to love, they're still in our clubhouse hanging out, with the great Stan passing this offseason.
"We are very blessed in St. Louis to have those guys in the red jackets around, and we still feel their presence there. We still feel their lessons."
So when the Cardinals go from being managed by the legendary Tony La Russa to the previously untested Mike Matheny, this quality doesn't change. And then Matheny turns out to be a true believer, a genuine proponent, even an example of "The Cardinal Way."
"I think he's the perfect torchbearer for that Cardinal Way going forward," Wainwright says of Matheny. "We're talking about a man who will show up to your fundraiser in the offseason with a three-piece suit with his hair slicked back, looking nice all the time, just to represent the Cardinals in the right way he feels. [Mike is the] perfect torchbearer, a great leader, a great motivator of men."
Asked about being anointed by Wainwright as "the perfect torchbearer" for "The Cardinal Way," Matheny responds: "Well, first of all, he made that statement because I was standing in the doorway."
In fact, Wainwright did not know that Matheny was standing in the doorway when he made that statement. When Wainwright did realize that Matheny was standing there, Wainwright says of the manager: "I think he's the greatest person ever."
Back at "The Cardinal Way," Matheny says: "As far as kind of the expectation and the culture within the Cardinals, it's such a rich history. You look at us walking out on the field with the No. 6 [Musial's number] on our sleeve, you look at the other Hall of Famers that have done such a great job of representing this organization. We hold ourselves to such a high level of expectation of how we play -- not just wins and losses, but how you go about your business. And I think it's been something that's just been passed down.
"It was something, when I came here as a player, that was very clear, and it was obvious and something that I feel is a responsibility to continue. And we have a group of guys that buy into it, and I think they've done a nice job of carrying that torch."
The younger players have no problem picking up the message and the torch. Matt Carpenter, installed this year as the second baseman and leadoff man, says: "For me, 'The Cardinal Way' symbolizes what we do here. As an organization, it's about holding yourself accountable for your actions as a player, being a guy who goes out every day ready to go, plays the game the right way, plays it hard. It's something that has been a tradition, and you feel it when you first step on the field as a Minor Leaguer in this organization. And you learn it and you embrace it. As you go on and you make it to the big leagues, then you're ready for this kind of atmosphere.
"They do such a good job of developing our young players, not only to be good players and make it up here, but when they get here, to be ready to go and to compete and give us a chance to win. As you've seen with this situation, guys have continued to come up. Michael Wacha has led us through this postseason, and he probably has the least experience of anybody in this room. But that's what we do here. There are a lot of people that are involved in that and make it happen, but it's something we take pride in."
You want a tangible example of "The Cardinal Way?" The Redbirds have generated a lot of examples, but for a recent reference point, there was Game 6 of the NL Championship Series. Carpenter's 11-pitch at-bat against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw turned the game around, and it helped point the Cards into the World Series. It was Carpenter seemingly willing himself to stay alive against a Cy Young Award winner, until he found a pitch he could drive for a double.
"That's just the way we like to play the game -- never give an inch, keep fighting to the last pitch, grinding out at-bats, grinding out games, just giving it your all while you're out there," Carpenter says. "That's why we've been successful, and I don't think we're going to change that."
"The Cardinal Way" has set the gold standard for the NL. It might require devotion, but no, it doesn't require change.